Are you Brave Enough to Lead?

publication date: Jan 13, 2020
author/source: Diane Lloyd recapped by Maryann Kerr

There is something truly exhilarating about meeting someone in real life who you’ve only known virtually and for that person to be as authentic and true to their online persona as they are In Real Life (IRL). Diane Lloyd is this person for me. Her session on Brave Leadership based on the work of Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead program was exceptional at 2019's AFP Congress. Let’s provide context on Diane’s take on what makes a leader. Her definition: A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.

This is a tough approach. It asks us to be open, authentic and vulnerable. Early in the session, Diane asked one side of the packed room to give thought to what they believe brave leadership looks like and on the other side of the room to share what brave leadership feels like. There were lots of interesting responses but what struck me as most interesting was that most participants had a difficult time distinguishing between what it looks like versus what it feels like. This speaks to the need for all of us to spend time considering our own emotional literacy and having a vocabulary around this.

Psychology researchers claim there are only five to eight core emotions and that all human feeling fits within these buckets. I use the following six:

  • Happiness,
  • Sadness,
  • Fear,
  • Disgust,
  • Anger, and
  • Surprise.

To lead bravely, emotional literacy is important. If you take two minutes right now, choose any one of the emotions listed, and try to create a list of words that describe that emotion. You will see just how difficult it is and this was clearly the case for those in attendance at Diane’s session.

For example, for the emotion of happiness we can say content, pleased, fulfilled, joyful, thrilled and ecstatic. As brave leaders, managers and employees our ability to express emotion in a literate way is critical. Our ability to sit with the emotion of others is equally important. The difficulty folks have with this was also apparent in Diane’s session.

Diane started the session by modeling vulnerability with two personal stories about moments when she had to dig deep and overcome difficult moments. Prior to asking us to share a story when we did something brave, she reminded us that our worthiness is not connected to other people’s opinions.

Perhaps most compelling for me as an organizational health consultant, was the idea that for employees to be successful, organizations must focus on the creation of a sense of belonging and connection. This, really, is what the practice of inclusivity is all about. It is less about ensuring we celebrate everyone in a vague way and more about environments that make each person feel they are a part of the organization, that they are respected and valued.

Diane spoke to the idea that, when we do not feel a sense of belonging and connection it causes us to behave in ways that are rooted in a feeling of shame. Diane defined shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." This spoke to me on a deeply personal level. When you work in an environment where you are not part of the “inner circle” or hold an opinion that is different and mocked – it can cause you to begin to question yourself and ask yourself "what is wrong with me?". In an environment where everyone’s input is valued, diversity of opinion is simply that, an added point of view that may be discarded but is not dismissed.

Diane spoke to the ways in which this shows up in organizations including:

  • Back-channeling 
  • Blaming and finger-pointing 
  • Bullying
  • Comparison
  • Cover-ups
  • Discrimination
  • Favouritism
  • Gossiping 
  • Harassment
  • Invisible Army
  • Nostalgia
  • Perfectionism 
  • Power-over
  • Self-worth tied to productivity
  • Teasing

Diane discussed what to do when you encounter someone who is angry and shut down. This is advice that works in all aspects of life – at home, at work and even online:

1. Get curious about what the other person is experiencing –ask questions, not answers.

2. Stay out of judgment

3. Don’t let the anger become contagious

4. Access your empathy

5. Practice compassion for both of you

6. Acknowledge the discomfort

7. Create a safe space to explore

The session explored values and how to identify and live ours. And finally, Diane spoke to the stories we tell ourselves particularly when information is lacking. From a favourite book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Miguel Ruiz:

“If others tell us something, we make assumptions, and if they don't tell us something, we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don't understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don't have the courage to ask questions.” This is particularly true if you are someone who likes to avoid confrontation.

Diane closed by asking us what we would do to show up more bravely in our leadership and provided this advice when we experience a setback:

Ask yourself:

1. What is the story you are telling yourself? What assumptions are you making?

2. Circle back –check in, get curious, share your story and check it out.

3. Find the learning……what is feeding your stories? What is a new story you want to create about this situation, person or yourself?

A great session that asked us as participants to be BRAVE and provided us with tangible, useful tools to do so in our work and home lives. Thanks AFP Toronto for providing this exceptional opportunity.

Maryann Kerr is Chief Happiness Officer/CEO and principal consultant with the Medalist Group. She is a true believer that the health and well-being of our workplace is directly correlated with the health and well-being of our employees. With over 30 years in the philanthropic sector, Maryann has served multi-faceted local, provincial and national organizations in executive leadership as well as senior philanthropic positions. She currently sits as Past-Chair of the Board of Directors, Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto and as a Member on the Board of Directors for Next Gen Men. Over the course of her career, Maryann has worked with outstanding teams of volunteers and staff to raise over $100 million for the social profit sector.

The Medalist Group is a boutique organizational development and philanthropic firm founded in 2016 by Maryann Kerr, with a goal to co-create well-led, collaborative, inclusive workplaces where productivity/mission delivery and employee engagement is high, and turnover is low. The Medalist Group believes social change won’t happen unless sustainable movements and organizations exist to encourage and develop a healthier workplace for a healthier you.

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